THE SECOND CHUFFTER: GHOST FROM THE PAST
“What is this?” demanded Calgar. “Where am I? Someone switch the lights on.”
,” a female voice said. “Lights.”
Calgar’s sight returned immediately. He was no longer in his bedroom; in fact, he appeared to be on the rather cramped bridge of a spaceship, overlooking a number of computer stations with advanced holographic displays. They appeared to be star charts, but the star systems were unfamiliar. Humans wearing a grey uniform Calgar didn’t recognise bustled about. He didn’t see any servitors, nor were any of the crew slaved into any of their workstations. In fact, most of them seemed happy about something. Calgar looked directly across at the wall-mounted viewscreen. They were in space – had he been kidnapped?
“I demand to know where I am!” Calgar snapped, turning around.
“Watch the -”
Calgar clasped his forehead. “There’ll be a bruise! I shall take this out of someone’s hide!”
He was facing a woman, evidently the ship’s captain. She was sitting in a comfortable-looking chair which seemed a million light-years from the austere command thrones of the Imperial Navy. The woman wore the same uniform as her crew, though Calgar’s genhanced eyesight picked out details which must have been emblems of rank. She was attractive and slender, with red hair which fell to her shoulders.
“One guesses you are not from the Imperium,” he said testily.
“No,” said the woman. She smiled. There was nothing threatening about her; in fact, she seemed quite lovely.
“What sort of kidnapping is this? Do you expect to ransom a Space Marine to the Imperium? My Chapter will overrun this ship and kill you all before you’ve finished making demands.”
“It’s not a kidnapping,” the woman laughed. “And we are very far from your Chapter. You have travelled across time and space, Lord Calgar. I am Captain Ellen Thorpe of the XMS Ontario. Welcome to the Twenty-First Millennium.”
“Wait a minute,” Calgar said, gripping his head to prevent a migraine from exploding his brain. “Finnigan has decided to show me the error of my ways be sending me back to the time before Old Night? What’s the point of that? I thought he was going to show me my childhood or something.”
“What would be the point of that? Does any resident of Macragge, let alone a Space Marine, enjoy any kind of childhood?”
Calgar stared at Thorpe with suspicion. “You seem to know a lot about my time, Captain.”
She shugged. “I’ve been dead for millennia, Lord Calgar, but time means nothing once your soul is in the hyper-realm.”
“That’s what we usually call the Warp. When our bodies die, our souls survive. They’re made of energy, Lord Calgar, and energy does not suddenly cease to exist. The hyper-realm is the home of our souls. Gods, daemons, humans, alnerans, we all go to the same place, a place of passion and emotion, a place where we go on forever in a perfect state of being. There isn’t really any such thing as death. We’re all immortal.”
“No wonder you all look so happy,” Calgar grumbled.
“We didn’t know it at the time,” Thorpe laughed. “We only find out when we pass into the hyper-realm and find everyone waiting for us.”
“Right, so life after death is real and we all join one big happy family,” said Calgar. “That’s certainly improved my day. Can I go home now? One needs at least forty winks to maintain one’s machismo.” Unconsciously he struck a pose.
“Any man who can stand posing in a toga on the bridge of my ship deserves some degree of respect. Unfortunately, there’s a problem.”
“What? One cannot go home?”
“One can go home, once he’s got the message,” Thorpe replied, “but you haven’t had the full message yet.”
“Which is, things get a lot worse in the future. The hyper-realm becomes more turbulent. This is reflected in realspace by wars and killing. By the time we roll around to the Forty-Second Millennium, it isn’t just the galaxy that’s in trouble; it’s our souls. Everyone in the galaxy will be affected by what’s coming, not just humans. The hyper-realm becomes a battleground and it spills over into realspace. You’re basically all going to hell, Lord Calgar, and only you can stop it.”
Calgar and Thorpe walked along the corridors of the Ontario. Crew worked at access panels or strolled along the walkways. There was no rushing, nor any of the stringent discipline present on any Imperial vessel. Somehow the crew still seemed to get their jobs done. How did they not mutiny without Commissars or Space Marines to provide a show of authority? It was no wonder their society degenerated into Old Night. They were bloody lucky the Chaos Gods hadn’t spilled through and slaughtered them all.
Strangely, although some of the crew nodded to Calgar and their Captain as the pair walked past, none of them seemed taken aback by Calgar’s appearance. The brawny (some might say podgy) Space Marine seemed to fill the corridor. His head had left a dent in nearly every ceiling brace they’d encountered.
“Are they all familiar with the 41st Millennium?” Calgar asked.
“No,” Thorpe smiled. “They’re not really here, and you’re not really on board a starship. You’re in the hyper-realm. This is kind of like my dream, a happy memory from my days as captain of the Starship Ontario.”
Calgar stopped walking. “Are you telling me I am physically in the hyper-whatsit without a Gellar field?”
“Calm down,” Thorpe grinned. “It doesn’t work like that in my time. You’re in the Well of Souls, a place protected from outside intervention. Not even the Chaos Gods can get you in here. In fact, we only brought you here through galaxy-spanning effort, and we’ll send you back unharmed.”
“I’m not dead, then?”
“No. There’s plenty of time left for you.”
“Thank the Emperor for that! There are still seventy-five items left on my list of ‘Seventy-Five Important Things To Do Before You Push Pansies’.”
“All that’s left to say, Lord Calgar, is to heed this warning: You must change your anti-Christmas ways, for humanity needs hope. They need something to look forward to, a time when they can remember what it was like to still be a child, when the galaxy still held a magic that work and duty will later eclipse.”
“Christmas? Christmas?” Calgar said. “I wipe my bum on Christmas.”
“Then humanity is doomed,” said Thorpe. “The hyper-realm will not be stilled by hope; it will become a torrent that will spill into the Milky Way and drown it in horror.”
“Oh, come on,” Calgar said. “You sound like you are quoting some crappy goth-vampire fanfic.”
Ellen’s smile had gone. She looked at Calgar with a determination he hadn’t seen before.
“Then,” she said, “I hope the other spirits have more success than I do… otherwise we’re all up shit creek.”
She touched Calgar’s forehead and reality exploded like shattered, coloured glass.
THE THIRD CHUFFTER: GHOST FROM THE PRESENT
Calgar snapped back to his senses. He stood atop a mountain which he immediately recognised as Mount Hera, given that there was a massive Ultramarine base behind him. The sky was a rich shade of midnight: Macragge was not ruined by pollution of any kind, not even from city lights, nor had the Mechanicus poured rockrete over everything. Lord Calgar looked down upon an ocean of cloud, if you’ll pardon the cliche. The moons burned overhead like silver Christmas tree ornaments.
“Thank feth for that!” said Calgar, as the wind whipped his toga against bare skin. “Back to reality… hold on, it’s a four-hour walk home! Bah, fethery!”
“It is not fit to swear when the Emperor is watching you,” came a female voice from behind. Calgar whirled, half-expecting to see Captain Thorpe despite the lower, more serious tone of this woman’s voice. When Calgar saw who was standing there, he gaped with very real fear.
The woman wore the most ornate and beautiful suit of power armour he’d ever seen. A gold aquila reared across her breastplate. The armour was Dark Angel green chased with gold. Purity seals and pieces of parchment fluttered; golden flames and Imperial iconography decorated most of the power suit.
Tthe woman had short, dark hair, and her eyes were blue. They were the most intense eyes he’d seen, fixing him in place like a gretchin cowering before the muzzles of a Predator’s lascannon. Calgar’s ego was more bloated than his belly, but even he knew this was not someone to feth around with.
“I bring you the Emperor’s tidings,” said the woman. “You know me as Sabbat Martyr. I have come to save your soul; to save all our souls.”
Once Calgar had overcome his shock, he adjusted his bedsheet-toga to cover the hard-on which sprang up like Captain Lysander rearing from beneath a pile of dead Orks.
“My… my lady,” said Calgar, showing deference for the first time in ages. “I thought Dan Abnett had written you out.”
“You can’t keep a good Martyr down,” Sabbat replied.
“Good answer! Might I enquire whether you are also going to sell me the benefits of Christmas?”
“You may, and I am.”
“But… don’t you consider it blasphemy?”
“Perhaps, but let us not get into that. Just because Christianity seems to be the only religion people are allowed to insult, does not mean I am here to join in. Rather, I am here to reinforce one of its traditions – perhaps the one which reaches the most humans, the one which gives people reason to celebrate and be thankful, if only they could see the hope!”
“Hope?” said Calgar. “Hope, in the 41st Millennium? Bah! Fethery! Fair enough, the good guys always seem to win in White Dwarf battle reports and most of the fan-fiction, but the Games Workshop is always pushing the fact that we are screwed. Even the Emperor’s Throne has been found to be engineered in Taiwan, I thank you!”
Sabbat drew her power sword and had its point resting against Calgar’s throat before he could react.
“Do you feel screwed, Space Marine?”
“One… one does at the moment, yes,” Calgar stammered.
Sabbat left the sword against his Adam’s Apple for a full three seconds, then stepped back and sheathed it once more.
“Then remember how it feels,” Sabbat said. Calgar practically started crying with relief. He might have extra Wounds on his profile, but Sabbat’s sword was massive, and without Milo to get in the way, Calgar would need to show caution if he was to keep them.
“All right, I shall play. One would like to hear your message, then one would like to be left alone. I fair have the need for a dump after all this.”
“Indeed,” said Sabbat, who was evidently less squeamish than most girls. “Marneus Cagar, a great battle is brewing. Humanity has lost sight of hope and reason. There is no goodwill; there is only war. If we are to change that, and prevent the Rhana Dhandra from happening in Earth’s back garden, we must cherish the spirit of Christmas.”
“Good luck promoting goodwill and Christmas cheer in this galaxy,” Calgar replied. “With terrors from the past re-awakening quicker than the Wraith from Stargate Atlantis and rebellions happening everywhere, as well as an extra-galactic threat… as if our galaxy didn’t have enough trouble, we are importing it as well!”
“Yes, that is what uncontrolled immigration does for you. We can change things, though. Or rather, you can. Hope exists whether we choose to see it or not. It exists independently of us; it is an idea, and as our relentless purges have proven, you cannot kill an idea. Hope does not die, as we do not truly die. We must make the galaxy see this, and reviving Christmas is how we will do it!”
Calgar massaged his throat. He could still feel the tip of Sabbat’s sword pressing against it.
“I am not entirely convinced,” said he, “that I am sane and everyone else has gone looney-tunes. You expect me to believe that I can bring about hope in this galaxy? There is less innovation here than in an iPhone. Like the iPhone, the Imperium has become a faded copy, but one is paid to keep it that way, for who knows what will happen should we change?”
“Fear.” Sabbat looked up at the moons. “Nothing but fear. I should be hearing jingle bells coming from up there, yet all I hear are your excuses. You are the Imperium’s greatest hero, Calgar. If you cannot do this, nobody can.”
“Nobody?” snorted Calgar. “I have been beyond the borders of life and death to the 21st Millennium, and here I stand conversing with a reincarnated Saint who can kill a Baneblade just by jabbing it with a sword. What have I got compared to that, apart from this rather breezy bedsheet?”
“We believe, Calgar. You do not. It is disbelief that you have. If you can change that, if you can find room in your heart for the Christmas spirit, then anyone can do it. The galaxy would not fall to Chaos. You have one final spirit to meet, and then you must make your decision; but for now, there is something I must show you.”
Sabbat drew her sword again. Calgar flinched back with an unheroic yelp, but his throat was not the Martyr’s target. She pointed instead at the clouds below and said something in an unknown language. Her eyes glowed yellow for a moment like in Merlin, then the clouds began to roll apart.
Calgar gasped as he beheld the extent of Macragge. Almost every house was illuminated in some way, either within or without: Christmas trees, strings of lights, plus those annoying wall-mounted Santas in hot air balloons. There was only one real dark patch below.
“I can see my house!” said Calgar. He fell silent, looking at the darkness around his home. His was one of the few places not decorated and his place happened to be the tallest. It was a grim sight.
Sabbat said nothing, allowing Calgar this moment of reality.
“I… I still believe there is fethery involved,” said Calgar. “Nobody buys me presents or wishes me good cheer. Why should I embrace something which I am left out of?”
“I haven’t shown you yet,” Sabbat said. “Come, let us visit your friends.”
Wind rushed in Calgar’s ears for a second. Suddenly he was in the Ultramarine HQ with Dick, Nessa and several of the Sternguard veterans. They were in the kitchen, enjoying mulled wine and roasted Tyranid. They were singing a song which was unfamiliar at first, then with a pang of guilt, Calgar realised it was from The Christmas Toy. Nessa was hanging Christmas stockings from the fireplace. They even hung one with Milo’s name on it… yet there was none for Calgar.
“You ungrateful shite-hawks!” Calgar raged, shaking his fist at them. “I ought to feed you to the Termagants.”
Nobody reacted to him. They carried on with their celebration.
“They can’t hear you, Calgar,” Sabbat said quietly. “This is merely a vision.”
“I told you they don’t include me,” Calgar told her, gesturing at the others. “I’ve gone missing so they break out the booze.”
“Do you blame them?”
“I… what? How dare you address me thus, Saint or not!”
“You belittle them. You try to break their spirit. You virtually ban Christmas, and you don’t buy any presents. What do you expect the galaxy to think of you, Marneus Calgar?”
Calgar stammered, but couldn’t find the words. Sabbat’s sharp eyes offered no mercy.
“There is a word for people like you,” she said. “Scrooge.”
Marneus Calgar, who had popped more blood vessels in his eyes while forcing a fart than any human in history, who could talk about himself until the stars went cold, found he had nothing to say.
“And yet…” Sabbat said, flicking her eyes to something over Calgar’s shoulder. Calgar was trembling with outrage, yet he turned to see.
Nessa was hanging a stocking with Calgar’s name on it. Dick was wrapping a present, and Calgar realised it was for him. The look of excitement on Dick’s face transformed the stern banner-bearer into a delighted child.
“…hope remains, beyond anyone’s ability to destroy,” finished Sabbat.
“Holy feth!” Calgar cried. “They have got me the new Viz annual! One cannot believe it, one has been wanting that all year!”
“There is one more ghost of Christmas to see you,” Sabbat said. Calgar looked her in the eyes, able to hold her gaze at last. “Are you ready?”
“I am,” said Calgar. “Will she be a babe too?”
Sabbat reached out to touch his forehead.
“No,” she said.
[Next: Ghost from the Future]